Page last updated at 21:55 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 22:55 UK

Kelly defends decision to leave

Ruth Kelly on her resignation

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly has defended her decision to step down as a minister at the next cabinet reshuffle.

The mother-of-four told the Labour conference it was time to "step back" from politics and put her family first.

Gordon Brown - who has arrived in New York for talks on the world economic crisis - denied any rift with Ms Kelly.

Meanwhile, a YouGov poll for The Sun has indicated that the Tories' lead over Labour has halved since a similar poll on Sunday.

The poll, which sampled 1,500 people, put the Conservatives on 41%, with Labour on 31% while the Lib Dems fell to 16%.

Mr Brown told the BBC Ms Kelly had informed him of her plans in May, adding: "There are no political issues between Ruth and me."

There had been reports she was unhappy with Gordon Brown's leadership, but she described him as a "towering figure".

Mr Brown, who left for the US immediately after the end of the Labour conference, denied suggestions that more resignations might follow.

Embryology Bill

The reshuffle could come as early as next week, following the Conservative Party conference.

Ms Kelly, whose four children are all under the age of 11, was appointed transport secretary in July 2007 after Mr Brown took over as prime minister.

It is well known that Ruth Kelly was among those most unhappy with the direction of the Labour Party under Gordon Brown
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

There had been speculation the 40-year-old, a devout Catholic, could leave the government because of her objections to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Bolton West MP Ms Kelly, who previously served as communities secretary and education secretary, is understood to have wanted to resign in May, but to have been asked by Mr Brown to stay on until the next reshuffle.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Ms Kelly was known to be unhappy with the direction of the government in recent months and, before the prime minister's conference speech on Tuesday, a number of cabinet ministers had been considering resigning with her.

'Determination'

But Ms Kelly told the Labour conference in Manchester: "It's been a tremendous privilege to have worked with both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, two towering figures in the Labour Party, government and on the world stage.

"But, as well as a frontline politician, I'm also proud to be a mother and a wife. To have been able to hold these jobs, I've relied on the support of my husband and my family.

"So I ask for your understanding when I say that I now owe it to my children and family to take a step back and start putting them first.

Gordon Brown gives his reaction to Ms Kelly's decision

"If I do not, then I know that this is something I will come to regret deeply."

Ms Kelly, who during an interview with BBC Radio Manchester on Tuesday dismissed suggestions she might leave her job , said: "This was not a decision I took lightly. The past 15 years have been an amazing and, at times, humbling experience."

Visibly moved when talking about her family, she was given a standing ovation by delegates. The Labour conference closed with a speech by deputy leader Harriet Harman.

The prime minister, touring the television and radio studios on Wednesday, paid tribute to Ms Kelly and said her decision - which was first reported on BBC Newsnight - was a personal one and "nothing to do with politics".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There are no political issues between Ruth and me."

He also said: "Ruth has been an MP all the time that her children have been growing up.

"This is the decision that every parent faces. It is nothing to do with politics. Sometimes we have got to make decisions that are difficult."

There are no political issues between Ruth and me
Gordon Brown

In another interview on BBC 5 Live it was put to Mr Brown that Ms Kelly was "not a big fan of yours".

Mr Brown replied: "She's a very good friend of mine - I think you've got that wrong."

He said they had worked together when they were both in the Treasury, and said he wished she would stay on in government.

The reshuffle could also see Chief Whip Geoff Hoon made a European commissioner, a No 10 source said.

The MP for Ashfield, a former Member of the European Parliament, is reportedly being lined up to replace Peter Mandelson.

But Mr Hoon told the BBC: "I have not had a discussion specifically relevant to me.

"What would actually be by far the best solution, if it is possible, would be for Peter Mandelson to remain in post. I've certainly had discussions along those lines."

One Labour MP said Mr Brown should be "brave" enough to remove ministers who had been critical of him.

Derek Wyatt, MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, said the reshuffle should give Labour a clear direction for the run-up to the next general election.

Huge pressure

Mr Brown addressed Labour's annual conference on Tuesday, claiming it was "no time for a novice" to lead the country.

This was seen as an attack on Conservative leader David Cameron and a coded warning to supporters of would-be Labour challenger David Miliband, the foreign secretary.

Mr Brown also sought to reassert his authority by telling party rebels to focus on challenges facing the country, not internal rows.

The prime minister insisted he would steer the country through the current financial crisis.

He said the Tories could not be trusted to run the economy and vowed Labour would not stop fighting for a "fair society".




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